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Norquist's Rainmaker Skills Grow With Budget Impasse

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Norquist hosts weekly get-togethers at the Americans for Tax Reform headquarters and his Eastern Market home, where policy is discussed and expensive wine flows.

As Congress peers over the fiscal cliff, Grover Norquist is preparing to wrap up his most successful year ever.

The founder of Americans for Tax Reform and architect of the anti-tax pledge signed by almost every Republican in Congress has achieved Washington’s version of rock star status, with all the associated trappings and detractors.

ATR says it raised more than $20 million in 2012, dwarfing its previous record haul by more than $8 million. Norquist has become an essential component of media coverage of the lame-duck tax and spending negotiations. And even as some congressional Republicans disavow the anti-tax pledge, Norquist remains immutable in conservative circles.

Norquist is part of a cottage industry that’s made hay out of deficit politics, a group that includes former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan K. Simpson, R-Wyo., who now regularly command $40,000 to speak about the financial crisis.

“When the tax fights become high-visibility, we have more success,” Norquist told CQ Roll Call in a recent interview. “Whenever we go on talk radio and on TV, we get more support online. People just look up ATR and write us a check.”

In years past, the organization has stayed afloat with several million dollars in donations from corporations and conservative activists. But the swelling federal debt and the advent of the tea party movement — ATR’s logo is an illustration of the Boston Tea Party — has boosted Norquist’s public profile.

During the past two cycles, Republican groups have given millions to ATR in exchange for advertisements in key races. In 2010, the Koch Brothers-affiliated Center to Protect Patient Rights donated $4.2 million. Crossroads GPS gave $4 million, the largest grant the nonprofit arm of the Karl Rove-backed super PAC gave out that cycle, tax records show. This year, Crossroads helped ATR raise more than $20 million for campaign activities, Norquist told CQ Roll Call. The exact amount of the Crossroads donation is not available because the organization has not filed tax returns for the 2012 calendar year. A spokesman for the group did not return CQ Roll Call’s request for comment.

This cycle, ATR spent $15.7 million to go to bat for signers of the anti-tax pledge, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“He’s almost saying, ‘I dare you to break it,’” said one senior GOP congressional aide.

The pledge is a frequent topic of discussion in closed-door meetings of House Republicans on Capitol Hill, at which Norquist sometimes makes appearances.

“No corporate lobbyist would get that kind of name recognition,” the aide said. “People don’t refer to it as the ‘ATR pledge’; they refer to it as the ‘Grover pledge.’”

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